Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Game Songs & Sea Shanties Sources For A West Indian Singing Game

Edited by Azizi Powell

I came across the following ring game (circle game) from Carricaou [Grenada, West Indies] some time ago when I was searching online for Caribbean children's games:

[I've number the song's lines for reference purpose. The performance instructions that the blogger Nick Cox wrote are given in parenthesis and italics as he wrote them.]

1. Under the cabin we shall be,
("It" is crouching like a sleeping bird in the center of the ring)
2. Like a blackbird in the air.
3. Rise and stand up on your feet ("It" rises to his/her feet)
4. and show me the one you love the best.
(It goes close to and faces the one he/she likes)
5. Oh sally's going to marry, I wish you well.
6. First the boy, second the girl (everyone points at the one "It" chose)
7. Seven days after seven days ago
8. Oh roll oh roll.
9. Oh Whirl her to the left and to the right
10. To the left and to the right.
(The couple hold hands and swing them left and right)
11. Whirl her to the left and to the right
12. and give her a kiss and send her away. (Only the very brave executed on this.)
13. Oh roll. Oh roll. (The gyration of the couple begins)
14. Oh roll you bamby gyal roll you bamby gyal
15. JUKE AHM (And the signature Juke!)

Source: oosted by Nick Cox.
Nick Cox wrote that he remembers this singing game from when he was a child in the 1960s, and describes it as "the popular ring game." Nick Cox also writes "The lyrics are just the way I heard them as a boy. Not making complete sense, but not daring to question topics of that nature. Pity I have no means of sharing the melody at this point."

I came across this singing game again yesterday while doing research on the meaning of word "juke" in the Caribbean & in the United States. Click for a post on "Jook (Juke) Words & Phrases In The Caribbean & In The USA".
I'm using the first line of that game song as its title. However, I'm not sure if "Under The Cabin We Shall Be" (also given here as "Under The Cabin") is the actual name of this ring game.

I've not been able to find other examples of this entire singing game under that name or other names online or in the few books on Caribbean game songs & rhymes that I have access to. I'd be curious to know if this singing game is documented elsewhere and if it is still played in Carriacao and/or in other parts of the Caribbean.

Children's singing games and rhymes are often made up of lines from multiple sources. I believe that "Under The Cabin We Shall Be" is much older than the 1960s, and, if my guesses are correct, it may be at least a hundred years old. Undoubtedly, some of the words to that game song have changed.

It seems very obvious that the West Indian [Dominica] game song "Down To The Carpet" is the source of lines 1-7 of "Under The Cabin We Shall Be". It also seems obvious that Line #12 is also from the "Down To The Carpet" game song.

Here are the words to "Down To The Carpet" as it is found in Brown Girl In A Ring: An Anthology of Song Games from the Eastern Caribbean (editors Alan Lomax, J.D. Elder, and Bess Lomax Hawes: New York, Pantheon Books, 1997, pp 76-77).

Down in the carpet you must go,
Like a blackbird in the air.
Oh, rise and stand up on your knees,
And choose the one you love the best,
Oh, when you marry, you tell me so,
First a boy, second a girl,
Ten days after, ten days old,
Kiss, kiss, and say goodbye.
I think that the words "first a boy, second a girl" refer to the order of the gender of children who will be born in that marriage. But Nick Cox wrote in his performance notes that he remembers "first a boy, second a girl" being taken as references for the middle persons in that particular rendition of that game.

I also think that the singing game "Little Sally Waters"* is the source for the directional lines [9-11] in the "Under The Cabin" game song. However, in "Little Sally Waters" those directional lines [usually? always?] refer to "turning [and "shaking"] to the East and West" rather than "to the left and right".

*"Little Sally Waters" used to be widely known in the United States as "Little Sally Walker". (However, since at least the early 2000s, the updated version of that singing game "Little Sally Walker Walking Down The Street" appears to be much more popular than its older version.)

In their notes for "Down To The Carpet", Lomax writes that "in play children sometimes use "Down To The Carpet" as a kind of second act for Little Sally Water" [which is also included in that book.] After Little Sally chooses her partner, "Down to the Carpet" is sung at a much speedieer teempo while the two children dance in the center of the ring. At the last line, "Kiss, kiss and say goodbye".

Continuing my analysis of "Under The Cabin", I believe that line numbers 8, 13, and 14 have their source in certain "Sally Brown" sea shanties. Those West Indian shanties include the refrain "Oh, hay, roll and go". And the girl in those shanties is named "Sally" as is the girl in the "Under The Cabin" game song. Of course, other shanties may also include an "oh roll" refrain. Whereas the word "roll" probably originally referred to a ship's rocking, as indicated by Nick Cox's notes, the performance activity that is accompanies that word in that contemporary singing game is the hip twisting, booty shaking "wining" that Cox refers to as "gyrations".

Click for a pancocojams post that provides a few examples of the "Sally Brown" sea shanties.

I think that the word "bamby" in line 14 is Patois for "baby". If so "bamby gyal" means "baby girl"- a common affectionate referent for females other than babies among African Americans, and presumably also among folks in the Caribbean.

As to line 15, suffice it to say that in the Caribbean one of the definitions of the word "juke" is "to stab or thrust". My guess is that when shouting the exclamation "JUKE AHM" (Jook 'em) the children singing this game song performed a sharply pronounced wine [twist a hip to the side] or, even more likely, did a pelvis thrust movement. For an example of a Caribbean traditional dance that features the pelvis thrust, click Martinque "MARTINIQUE - Bèlè **Mabélo**"

Thanks to Nick Cox for sharing this rhyme & his remembrances of its performance activity. Thanks also to authors of the Brown Girl In The Ring book.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitors comments are welcome.

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